Ice Network

Tar Heel tales: Abbott out to make late dad proud

Castelli, Tran not giving up on Olympic dream; Quads coming to short?
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Jeremy Abbott has managed to take some positive things from the recent passing of his father, Danny. -Getty Images

Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott arrived in Greensboro late Wednesday night and skated his first practice Thursday morning. Abbott said he wrestled with the decision to compete at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships this week after losing his father, Danny, earlier this month. Danny died in Aspen, Colorado, at the age of 73 after complications with Parkinson's disease. Abbott flew from Detroit, where he trains, to be with his father in his waning moments, but he did not arrive in time to see him alive.

"It was such an unfortunate circumstance, but so many wonderful things came out of it, as strange as that sounds," Abbott said. "I got to spend a lot of time with my family, and everything came together so well. The funeral in Aspen ended up being a celebration of his life instead of a mourning of his loss. There were a few tears but lots of laughter and lots of love."

Abbott spent seven days in Colorado and trained in Colorado Springs at his former training home, the World Arena. His coach, Yuka Sato, flew to Colorado to help him prepare for this week's competition.

"The altitude training, I'm not going to lie, it was hell," Abbott said. "But I was able to get through my programs. And I told myself, 'If I can get through these programs here, I'm going to be a beast next week.' "

Abbott said he felt good in practice in Greensboro, landing several beautiful triple Axels but opting to perform triple flip-triple toe combinations instead of any quads. He did not so much as attempt a quad at either of his two Grand Prix events this season, Skate America and NHK Trophy.

"The triple flip-triple toe -- that's the plan for the week," Abbott said. "I'm not going to play it safe, but with everything happening the last couple of weeks, I think the quads are still catching up. The focus is more on enjoying the program and skating it as well as I can. When all of this happened, it took the wind out of my sails and my heart really wasn't in it."

Should Abbott win a fifth title, he will be the first since Todd Eldredge to win as many. (Eldredge won six.) Abbott did not make the podium the last time the U.S. championships were held in Greensboro in 2011 but said he is feeling a different energy in the city this time around.

Winning a fifth title is something Abbott called "an absolute possibility," but it does not appear to be the be all and end all for the veteran competitor.

"I don't have to be here," Abbott said. "I don't have to have a national title. I know my family is so proud of my skating, and my dad was one of my biggest supporters. I think everyone knows my mom is my biggest supporter, but my dad was so freakin' proud of me. I just want to make him proud."

-- Amy Rosewater

Rippon gets different view on championships

Adam Rippon found himself in an unfamiliar spot Thursday night. He was at the arena as a choreographer, not in his usual role as a skater. Two of the skaters he has been working with -- good friend and training mate Ashley Wagner and Mirai Nagasu -- were competing in the ladies event.

"It's definitely more nerve-wracking being in this position," Rippon said as he waited for Wagner to come off the ice and chat with reporters. "Being down here and not skating…you have no control."

Rippon was proud of Wagner's performance, which turned out to be the top-marked routine in the event. In addition to scoring a personal-best 72.04 points, her program components mark (33.71) was the best of the evening.

Rippon, who will compete in the men's short program Friday, said he has seen a renewed motivation from Wagner since she scored a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final last month.

"She was third, basically, at a Russian championships," Rippon said, referring to the fact that Wagner was the lone American in a field of six skaters, four of whom were Russian. "For a while, the U.S. ladies have been regarded as second tier to the Russians. I think this proves that Ashley is in with the best of the best."

Wagner was remarkably stronger in Thursday night's short than she was at the Final, where her program featured a triple flip and her combination was a triple loop-double toe. She opened with a triple Lutz-triple toe in Greensboro.

Rippon worked with Wagner on her short program in the offseason, and the two joked that they practically needed marriage counseling afterward. Cindy Stuart intervened in the role of mediator, and Rippon and Wagner not only pulled the program together but kept their friendship intact.

Rippon has also worked with Nagasu on both of her programs. Nagasu is in fourth place after her program to music by Rachmaninoff, after which she received a standing ovation. Rippon crafted a routine to Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" for the free skate.

If the free skate is anything like the short program, Rippon and Nagasu will both be battling the butterflies. 

-- Amy Rosewater

Castelli, Tran still harbor Olympic hopes

When Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran, who sit third after Thursday's senior pairs short program, decided to team up last June, it was with the understanding they would have to sit out this season internationally. They may begin representing the U.S. during the 2015-16 season.

"Skate Canada has promised to release me in June," Tran, 24, said. (This was confirmed by the pair's coach, Bruno Marcotte, who trains the team in Montreal with Richard Gauthier.)

At first, the skaters thought of this as an obstacle.

"We really didn't want to skate together at first, due to the citizenship stuff," Castelli, 24, said. "We just thought, we will [do a tryout] to please the coaches, but then it worked out."

Tran knows "citizenship stuff" better than most. He skated for several seasons with Japan's Narumi Takahashi, winning world bronze in 2012. The team split the following season, partly due to injuries and partly due to Takahashi's desire to compete at the Sochi Olympics, something that would be impossible with a Canadian citizen.

It looks like Tran could be headed down that road again. Generally, it takes at least five years to become a U.S. citizen, and he might not qualify in time to compete at the Olympics in 2018. Castelli already has an Olympic medal in her pocket: She and former partner Simon Shnapir are members of the U.S. squad that won the bronze in the inaugural team competition in Sochi.

"It will be tight," Tran said. "We don't know the exact process. We are looking into hiring a lawyer."

"When we first started talking about it, I said, 'Listen, there is a chance it might never happen,'" Castelli said. "I'm not saying it won't, but there is a chance we might never go (to the Olympics). And we both said we'd like to go, [but] we're in it for a career, not just one competition...a big competition."

Marcotte hinted at yet another possibility.

"The goal this week was to come here and make a good statement for the next eight years (2022)," he said.

-- Lynn Rutherford

Let's quad twist again, and again

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim have a 5.66-point lead heading into Saturday's free skate, but even if it were a 20-point lead, they would still do a quadruple twist in their free skate, set to George Gershwin selections.

"We didn't come here to put the quad twist in to keep ahead of the other (U.S.) teams," Scimeca, 23, said. "We are doing it for experience, potentially for worlds. I don't think it would be good to go to worlds and do it there for the first time."

"We did it to get ready for the world stage," Knierim, 27, added. "We want to go to worlds, we want to go to Four Continents. Our goal is to be in the top five or six at worlds. What better way to practice doing [the quad] but at nationals."

A perfectly executed quad twist might add a couple of valuable points over and above the pair's excellent triple twist, but Scimeca and Knierim's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, thinks adding the move to their arsenal will also make a statement and give them more prominence on the world stage.

"They're thinking about this entire four-year cycle, heading into the 2018 Olympics," Sappenfield said. "They want to compete with the Russians, with the Chinese."

Currently, two Chinese pairs execute quad twists. Several other teams, including Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, do throw quad Salchows. All of these happen in free skates, because under the current rules, they cannot be done in short programs.

Sappenfield would like to change that. She is confident her team will master the move in competition and wants the option of adding it to their short program. On Thursday, she said she would contact other coaches and investigate how they might encourage a rule change.

-- Lynn Rutherford